An award has been given out annually since 1982 that sets some schools apart from others. It recognizes select schools throughout the nation based on overall academic excellence or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.
In the nearly 35 years that the United States Department of Education has been presenting this honor to deserving schools, more than 7,500 schools have achieved the level of excellence required to be considered for the award.
Of those 7,500 schools, 279 public schools and 50 private schools were selected for the achievement in 2016.
Of those 329 schools, only four were chosen in Oklahoma, and of those four, L. Mendel Rivers Elementary School on Altus Air Force Base is one of them.
Rivers represents Oklahoma as an exemplary high performing school and one of the best in the state and in the nation.
Ironically, the timing coincides with state budget cuts that have forced many schools to scale back on the resources needed to put students in the best possible position to succeed, suggesting that above all else, having the right people in the right place with a winning attitude goes a long way.
“What a tremendous honor for Rivers Elementary Schools,” Altus Public Schools Superintendent Roger Hill said. “I am so proud of the hard work from this very dedicated staff. We have engaged parents with students that understand and value early on the importance of obtaining a top-notch education. A strong partnership exists between school and home and there is certainly a genuine connection to the students that are served at Rivers Elementary School.”
Education Secretary John B. King Jr. announced the National Blue Ribbon Award recipients via a YouTube video in which he explained exactly what the award meant and why each school selected was deserving of the honor. The video listed the 329 schools recognized and when Rivers Elementary appeared next to a picture of the staff and students gathered around the flagpole in front of the school, a loud applause broke out.
There is no easy path to become a National Blue Ribbon School. In addition to maintaining an elite level in academics, a school must also be nominated by the state department of education. Following the nomination, schools must complete a comprehensive application describing school practices. With that in mind, Rivers Elementary School Principal Robbie Holder set about doing the tasks required to complete the application.
Holder only asked that the teachers tell their stories.
They spoke of honor they felt teaching Altus Air Force Base military family member students, the struggles facing students when parents deploy and the need for students to be away for a week or more due to deaths in the family.
The result was a Blue Ribbon selection and the sacrifices teachers have made to the children, their families and the school were not lost on Holder.
“Whatever you guys have needed to do, you always make it happen and every time you do, our kids just keep getting better and better all the time. You always make sure they are successful,” Holder said to the staff. “This Blue Ribbon Award validates and acknowledges our philosophy of high expectations partnered with accountability for both students and staff.”
Holder emphasized the group effort throughout her speech, but many teachers praised and thanked Holder for allowing them to teach. All of them agreed that without her guidance, they would not have made it this far.
Hill and Holder are scheduled to lead a group representing the school at a two-day awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the achievement.
For more information call 580-481-2183 or visit nationalblueribbonschools.ed.gov.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.